Throughout the mid 1990s, Mohamed Mahmoud was a street that carried so many good memories for me and perhaps other students of the American University in Cairo who would cross this street several times per day trotting from one campus to the other, stopping by El Kady to get the occasional chocolate bar or odd stationeries.
A dramatic fast-forward takes us to 19 November 2011, when this street reached unfortunate prominence on a whole new level. For over six days, Egypt’s riot police and the Egyptian Central Security Forces faced off with protestors in the now famed street. More than 40 people were killed and over 3,000 injured in what became one of the most violent clashes since the 18 day protests that toppled President Mubarak.
Now as we look back at the events that unfolded on this street, many voices are bent on commemorating the Mohamed Mahmoud day. But while people act all-knowing of what exactly transpired during the two episodes of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, the fact remains that no one could tell with certainty what exactly occurred.
The protests started after the security forces disbanded a rally organised by families of those who perished or were injured in the 25 January events. As with any public gatherings in recent Egyptian memory, the situation has degenerated quickly, leading to violent clashes. Paradoxically, these clashes happened against the backdrop of the parliamentary elections, hailed as the first of its kind in the country’s history. Yet again, if one was to analyse for a moment and ask few successive Why’s, we will soon reach a dead end. The same could be said of few other events. Why did people have to die in Maspero, the cabinet, Abbaseya, and the Port Said Stadium? Several people will respond to those questions by firing accusations laced with high adrenaline and emotions, but the complete truth remains elusive.
However, as the Mohamed Mahmoud day comes upon us we remain reminded of few simple facts:
- How fragile this country is, with any rally or sit-in potentially turning deadly in a split second.
- How reasons for insinuating a situation can soon be drowned amidst the heat of dealing with the aftermath that ensues.
- How inapt and deadly is the security forces response to any riots.
- How cheap life remains in this country.
I am not sure we should be keen on commemorating an event which we do not understand fully. In doing so, we develop an acceptance that it is OK for people to die on the streets with no justification. We accept those catastrophes to pass and be forgotten.
As Mohamed Mahmoud comes upon us, one hopes that we won’t continue politicising the cause by a dull sit-in or marches attempting to hijack the event. Out of respect to those who perished we must, for once, hold ourselves accountable to find out what happened and why it happened. Alas, the idiom “get away with murder” has become an everyday reality.